Espial: Shame

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What is there to say about shame? Accepting it allows for the renewal of intelligence. There’s a spectrum of shame: the shame of knowing & observing; shame of being reduced; shame of representation, etc. 

My spectrum of shame may be aligned and colored significantly differently from yours. As such, I’d like for you, as the beginning of this espial, to create your own spectrum of shame. 

Draw some goalposts and map out 9 shameful encounters or events to the spread:


These can be recent memories or historic reverberations. When done plotting your shame, try mapping a color to each encounter. These colors can overlap, be tremendously nuanced, and do not have to follow a linear convention. 

In developing your spectrum of shame, you allow for the understanding that there are distinct instances of shame and, alongside, distinct motivations and desires within these instances. As any-body is multi-faceted, providing multiple entrances and understandings of your shame works to acknowledge the complexity of yourself as an individual and the complexity of your emotional range. 

Wrestling with shame can often feel a bit like this extraordinary image.

Reading #1:

Rosalind C. Morris, “Invisibilities”

Rebecca Seiferle’s “Law of Inertia”

Marie-Claire Bancquart,

  1. “Unwell”
  2. “Simple”
  3. “Christ in the Garden”
  4. “Return of Ulysses”
  5. “The Stairs”
  6. “Cry”


In this first selection, the preliminary drive is to think more of how selfhood and shame are interlaced, yet distinct processes. 

Morris’ ‘Invisibilities,’ offers us the provocation, “a space between individuals and their reputations.” I think this sentence is the perfect guide for traversing the tenuous landscape of shame. Shame conspires within the junction of expectation and interruption. When considering the space between individuals and their reputations, it is not a far stretch to consider this space to be one where shame can reside. 

The complication arises when we are tasked with facing shame and making something pleasant of it. The two poets chosen to accompany Morris here in this trembling walk are Seiferle and Bancquart. Seiferle for her line, ‘when time itself seems to conspire / on the self’s behalf,’ offering us the idea that seemingly external constructions can influence the spaces of our internal junctions; Bancquart for her lines, ‘She’s in no position to refuse the pain,’ and, ‘she cancels her body in the half-light,’ offering us an insight toward physical bodily autonomy, and the mental/emotional presence of body and selfhood. 

In what seems like difficult ground to distinguish, one analyzes treading through muddied ground; bearing witness to the mudprint to see the delineation, spillover, and absence. Because a self can be determined, in some capacities, one can then also make light of finding shame within as a determiner, shame as an indicator that adds one presence of insight to the shape of the mudprint without becoming an entire print in its own right. 

Exercise #1:

Take a sheet of paper, a writing instrument, and draw. 

In a documentary narrating the experience of several independent and small-town artists in Canada, a sculptor said something along the lines of, ‘At some point between the teenage years and becoming an adult, you go from ‘Yeah I can draw,’ to, ‘Oh, I can’t draw.’’ This observation struck me as being tied deeply to the growth and embodiment of shame. Even as children, we are aware that differences in talent or experience enable differences in production, but somewhere in the adoption of maturity these distances grow insurpassable.  

For this exercise, I’d like for you to try three drawings: 

  1. Re-creating something with a drawing based on a photograph or image.
  2. A sketch in-real-time of an environment, building, particularly still individual, or etc. This could be looking out a window to capture a scene, going to a park, sitting in a living room, as grand or small as you imagine. 
  3. A drawing of something entirely from memory. This can be as specific as, “I would like to draw a jaguar; this is what they look like from my understanding,” to as foggy as, “I’m going to draw my 3rd birthday.”

Muse on the possibility that you can, in fact, draw, in spite of (potentially) an awareness for the distance provided by experience, practice, or talent. 

Reading #2:

Viviane Mahieux, “The Chronicle as Uncollectible Commodity”

Claribel Alegría,

  1. “Even if you go away, Death”
  2. “I Gave Up My Masks”
  3. “My Past Covers Me”
  4. “Unfinished Rite”
  5. “You Are Mine, Silence”

Amy Hempel, “When It’s Human Instead of When It’s Dog”


With these second readings, we have an expansion of shame. Or a clarification. I love Mahieux’s discussion of chronicling, as a whole, and think there’s much to learn there, especially regarding shame. She writes, “The chronicle, however, continually reenacts the conditions leading to its production. It is both an expression of the chronicler’s interaction with the city and of his or her working relationship with the newspaper industry.” Extrapolating the metaphor here, shame as a chronicling act, becomes both an expression of interaction with the self and the relationship with the external conditions which define the self. 

Alegría and Hempel work to develop a self that derives good from shame. While there are significant risks in positing vulnerability as a necessary mode for emotional or mental improvement, when Alegría writes, “I gave up my masks / and I am myself again / vulnerable,” the focus is on giving up the masks of the speaker. The acknowledgment of the artifice and the acknowledgment that one is in control of which artifice or performance to don at any point is a very important recognition for the quality of one’s being. Hempel provokes thought regarding an outcome from the former path, prior to becoming authority over one’s self, of labor without just reward. 

Shame, in these readings, is nuanced into becoming a tool for understanding how one determines an artifice they have used or are using, and for what purpose these artifices are being used. 

Exercise #2: 

Go to a bustling, public location and observe. Or, in pandemic times, imagine one. 

Take an instrument to journal with you and spend between 30 minutes and 2 hours getting to know the patrons, visitors, and/or clientele of the location. Using your intuition and senses, allow their (these said patrons, visitors, and/or clientele) emotional states and histories to unravel before you. Try to write your observations for as few as five and as many as twenty individuals during this period.

One of the most shame-inducing acts, in my opinion, is, when confronted with the opportunity, doing or saying something to an individual based on your intuited or observed understanding of their needs. This could be as simple as offering a thirsty stranger some water and as momentary as offering to hold something for a too-busy parent. 

By detailing your observations, you learn that the mind is capable of deducing minor needs or voids quite effectively. 

Choose three of the persons you’ve detailed and write a sentence or two saying what could be done to improve their moment (however a moment is defined by you). 

If feeling particularly up-to-it, try enacting one of these perceived betterments. 

Reading #3:

Mikhail Bakhtin, “The Soul’s Surrounding World”

Hart Crane,

  1. “My Grandmother’s Love Letters”
  2. “Chaplinesque”
  3. “Pastorale”

Maria Laina,

  1. “August 18, 1880”
  2. “The Aunt’s Story”
  3. “Luxor”
  4. “Nausicaa”


In this the final selection of readings, I begin with Laina’s ‘the aroma of camphor kept / not only piety from moving away / but also sensual love,” as a moment of considering what might be camphorous in regard to your shame; what of your shame attracts devotion and sensual love? 

Shame can serve as a stubborn guide, a motivator, or even an outlet for creative potential as you find the intersections where you are conceptualizing fire escapes for a single-story building. Bakhtin writes, “A word that has been uttered is ashamed in the unitary light of the meaning which had to be uttered {if, with respect to value, there is nothing but this to-be-uttered meaning}. So long as the word remained unsaid, it was possible to believe and to hope, for one could still look forward to the compelling fullness of meaning.” Which I’d like to let stand, as I do not think I can extrapolate further and generate something new. 

And then, in finality, I hear the echoes of Crane’s ‘gentle, pitying laughter,’ which, despite having a complicated relationship with Crane and his rumored plagiarism, is such a heartstone of a phrase. Let us find that which we are ashamed of and causes gentle, pitying laughter. 

Exercise #3: 

Create a list of 8 places you have a shameful memory in or that you associate with shame. Try to describe the shame that took place in each place with three words that cover the broad categories involved. For example:

  1. Parent’s living room, Farmington, couch
    1. family (aunt)
    2. pride
    3. queerness
  2. Cal-Anderson Park, Seattle, Stone path to fountain
    1. Stranger
    2. Harassment
    3. Inaction

These can be as specific or as general as necessary so long as, upon reading the item, you have a strong and immediate associative response to the description: you feel it, or you see it once more. 

Instants of shame tend to arise where there is a separation between desire and action. Take one or two of these moments and ask yourself: what did I want in that instance, and why was I hesitant to enact my desire? Then: consider the positive ramifications of your choice. What does your capacity to feel shame over such an instance indicate about your considerateness?

Give yourself the time and space to pursue these thoughts adequately and allow for patience. 

Final Exceptionalism: 

What is something you’re passionate about but have never made?

A food, art style (painting, design), sweaters? 

Make it. 

Give this making serious consideration. Research, design: really allow your heart to filter into the process. If it takes months, it takes months. Give yourself permission to ask: what’s time? 

And after the making, consider the ways it could be improved in the future; be generous with your critique. 

Part of making is always the unraveling of pride: to admit imperfections is to desire to make again. Shame intervenes to tackle your critique with an undue and unjust weight. Placate this challenge by lightening it: give your shame the acknowledgement that, in fact, there is much better you could strive for if you so choose, and there is something indefeatably charming about the imperfections. The shift from ‘but,’ to ‘and,’ in emphasized connections lightens shame like no other.